Polish Catholic to Be Honored Posthumously by President Obama

On Monday this story slipped by me. President Obama made these remarks at the Holocaust Museum, which by the way, if you’ve never been there, it’s someplace you should visit.

I say this as a President, and I say it as a father. We must tell our children about a crime unique in human history. The one and only Holocaust — six million innocent people — men, women, children, babies — sent to their deaths just for being different, just for being Jewish. We tell them, our children, about the millions of Poles and Catholics and Roma (Gypsies) and gay people and so many others who also must never be forgotten. Let us tell our children not only how they died, but also how they lived — as fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters who loved and hoped and dreamed, just like us.

We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen — because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent. Let us also tell our children about the Righteous Among the Nations. Among them was Jan Karski, a young Polish Catholic, who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself.

Jan Karski passed away more than a decade ago. But today, I’m proud to announce that this spring I will honor him with America’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A bit more about Jan Karski, who deserves to have his story told when for years it was not. Karski was a Polish Catholic who was sent early by anti-nazi underground forces to provide undercover information to the Polish government in exile (in Paris and London) and to other governments including the United States. He even provided early information to the allied forces early about the hidden extermination of the Jews in Poland and especially the dismantling of the Warsaw ghetto. Despite his reports which he filed at great person risk of his own life, people still did not believe that this could have been possible and delayed sending help to end the war. His story reveals that the world knew about the extermination of the Jews and either chose not to act or found it too overwhelming to believe that this could actually be happening.

From this interview:

When I brought my report to London, and I was twice in the Warsaw Ghetto and in a concentration camp and saw what happened to Jews in World War I, such a thing never happened in the entire history of the world. There were pogroms, the Inquisition, expulsions, mass murders (Genghis Khan, in Turkey against the Armenians), but never such a phenomenon in a civilized country like Germany where there was conceived a plan by the highest government authority to destroy an entire population. I had this feeling from Eden, and Lord Cranborne (Conservative Party) a dignified man, a very rich man and Lord Selbourne who was very anti-Nazi — what I was telling them I had the feeling that they were thinking that I had exaggerated, they thought that it was anti-Nazi propaganda, they couldn’t believe what was actually happening.

When I came to the United States in 1943, I had a meeting with a Justice of the Supreme Court, Frankfurter, who was a Jew, and he told me at a meeting at the Polish Embassy, “Do you know who I am? Yes. Do you know I am a Jew? Yes. Please tell me what is happening.” After 20 minutes I told him all I saw. He was interested only in what happened to Jews. After 20-25 minutes, a moment of silence, I remember every word — “Mr. Karski, a man like me talking to a man like you, I want to be totally frank — I am unable to believe you.” My ambassador said, “Felix, you don’t mean it. You cannot say such a thing. You cannot call him a liar.” “I did not say he is lying. I am just unable to believe what he told me.” Then he reached out to shake my hand, but I couldn’t.

So, it was difficult to believe for those who were far away. Why, when I now hear, today, when people use the term Holocaust, in many cases I feel offended — “abortion is a Holocaust” or the Armenians suffered a Holocaust — all this is blasphemy, there is no comparison.

Wiesel said it the best, “All nations had victims, but all Jews were victims. ” The word Holocaust cannot be used by any nation. It means the destruction of Jews.

Which is exactly why one should never make comparisons to the Holocaust on any situation that is actually not like the Holocaust and why so many Jews are angry with Bishop Jenky this week. Rightfully so.

Regardless, President Obama is honoring Karski with the highest award given to a civilian. It is only disappointing that Mr. Karski is no longer living to receive it. He went on to work as a Professor at Georgetown for more than 35 years.

I guess President Obama is really anti-life and really, really hates Catholics. He hates us so much that he’ll give a Catholic an award for standing up against the extermination of an entire race of people.

A race of people that he did not even belong to.

Grace Abounds at Virginia Tech Five Years After Tragedy

Five years ago Virginia Tech was a Campus in Chaos. Bloodshed in classrooms and dorms–who ever could imagine such tragedy? People were killed simply because they decided to go to class that day.

One young man was deeply disturbed and everyone ignored the signs of his trouble. He was in desperate need of mental health treatment and his demons eventually took over and he killed 32 people and wounded another 25 on a shooting spree unlike any other in our nation’s history.

I’ve learned over the years that some people just can’t be helped, or perhaps can only help themselves. Perhaps others tried to reach out to him but he ignored those people and his illness found him unable to reach out in his pain, choosing to mire himself in depression instead.

There’s no excuse for what he did that day. All that is left now is healing from what has happened.

And that’s where my friend, Fr. John Grace comes in. He is the Campus Minister on the Virginia Tech Campus. On that first April 16th there was not a Catholic Campus Minister assigned to the Newman Center at Virginia Tech. Fr. John was in Chicago, working with the Paulists and others, making decisions about his future. He had been a campus minister elsewhere and a diocesan priest. But he wanted to explore religious life outside of diocesan life.

But Virginia Tech called him back. He was needed. And the challenge and God’s call to aid a troubled campus was one Fr. John could not ignore. And they are better for it.

Fr. Grace arrived and spent much time listening to the pain of a campus community that had banded together and suffered with one another. He often tells me that the healing began long before he arrived. Students had begun to heal through prayer services that they conducted, picking songs to sing and to use music’s power to help in that healing process.

In a PBS interview, Fr. John said:

I want people to know that in this community there is a thriving, alive faith community, a Catholic identity that understands that death exists, violence exists, and the cross exists, but so does hope, resurrection, and life.

And indeed there is still that aliveness today. What better message for the Easter season than that. Jesus is alive and that changes everything.

Even when madmen shoot up college campuses, Jesus can redeem death and destruction and therefore we have the power to heal and to raise our voices in song.

And that’s what Fr. Grace encouraged:

From Catholic Online:

“It’s unusual that a 19-year-old’s voice can bring hope to a 55 year old, and yet I’m convinced of it happening,” said Father Grace. “The idea of gathering and being empowered was seen in the disciples of Jesus gathering in the upper room after His death. They gathered in fear and in a desire to come together, and they were empowered. We have to respect our humanity and our fears.”

The CD Voice of Hope is available on iTunes and is a compilation of the songs that they sang in that first year together at Newman, healing together as a community. Fr. Grace encouraged the recording of those songs and now they are songs of not just healing but of freedom from being controlled by tragedy.

There’s a lot of Grace these days on the Virginia Tech campus. Fr. John Grace has outpoured what God offers to each one of us: the opportunity to give of ourselves to help others see God.

Nun Fired for Being Whistleblower in ’96

Waking up to this news is disturbing:

A Roman Catholic nun testified Monday that she was fired from her job as director of religious education at a Pennsylvania parish after reporting her suspicions about a priest who had been convicted of receiving child pornography. Sister Joan Scary said at the landmark sexual abuse trial of two priests from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that she reported her suspicions about another priest, Edward M. DePaoli, to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua in 1996.

So this is pre-Boston, but it certainly goes to show the mindset of the Archdiocese here, which is why the judge allowed it. Remember what I said about Boston being a day at the beach compared to this place?

I wonder what would have happened had one of their brother priests come forward with the same information? Or a lay person who wasn’t employed by the Archdiocese? What would have they done with the information then? Probably nothing, but at least someone wouldn’t have lost their job.

It’s amazing how this happens and I’ve seen it happen for less. I knew a nun once who simply suggested that a campus ministry office not be moved from a central location on campus. All she asked is that they reconsider the move and someone in administration didn’t like being questioned by a woman and he made it difficult for them to keep her on staff but cutting the ministry budget to the point where her salary was the thing that had to go. Unbelievable.

What’s just as disturbing as the cover-up is the power that priests often wield over those that work for them. I’m very fortunate to have never had such problems. The folks I work with both here in Buffalo and with the Paulists have always been very collaborative and supportive of me.

I think I mentioned a workshop that I gave in Philly for the Archdiocese once. It was over the course of two days. The first day was a great group of guys. Mostly middle aged and older men, all dressed to the nines with clerics. They were awesome. All of them were willing to experiment with technology and asked great questions. They seemed healthy and centered. The second day was the polar opposite. Fearful men, afraid of being sued if they did a you tube video were in the auditorium. They seemed very careful and unhealthy to me, almost as if they had something to hide. A lot of people with the title Msgr. were there that day. The Bishop (an auxiliary whose name escapes me) seemed frustrated with them and finally had to nearly order them to start using technology in their ministry. “This is not an option.” He said at one point. Amazing.

This is not going to be another Sunny Day in Philadelphia…instead it’ll end up being a dark cloud on the church for years to come.

Attacking Bishops From an Unlikely Source

Often people on the far Catholic Left have little use for Bishops on the Catholic right–which they would claim are most Bishops. While I’m not sure that’s true (perhaps popular Bishops would be more accurate?) Michael Sean Winters reports that Bishops often get more flack from the right-wing of the church.

From Distinctly Catholic

Now, we have two new examples of far-right attacks on the bishops. The first is an article in the American Spectator that calls out Cardinal Wuerl for his handling of the Guarnizo case and argues that the cardinal has been derelict in his duty. The author notes the stance of Cardinal Raymond Burke on the issue of denying communion, conveniently ignoring the fact that many conservative canonists agree that Guarnizo went too far. The author is clearly unaware of the role of a bishop in his own diocese when he writes: “Cardinal Burke has spoken; the case is closed.” Perhaps someone should inform the Pope that Cardinal Burke disapproves of the way he, and his predecessor Pope John Paul II, dealt with the issue of denying communion – they didn’t do it.
But, what truly shocked was this sentence: “I’ve heard Church insiders call the cardinal ‘Wuerl the girl,’ a reference to his precious personality.” What does this have to do with anything? Isn’t this just a slur cast at Cardinal Wuerl? Why publish such a thing?
The other example comes from a group calling itself Concerned Roman Catholics of America (CRCOA) although I think Crazed Roman Catholics of America might be more appropriate. They are calling for protests at the upcoming Catholic Religious Education Conference, annually sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. They think the event is a hotbed of dissent and want all good Catholics and all good bishops to stay away. Here is their throwdown to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles: “”Why does L.A.’s new, reputedly orthodox Archbishop José Gomez bring back the same dangerous speakers whom his predecessor Cardinal Roger Mahony brought in year after year?

Even the like minded can’t seem to get along. As Charlie Brown might say: “We’re doomed.”

We Can’t Even Drink Together Anymore

Vitriol has become a contact sport in American politics. Friends who have enjoyed the verbal sparring between democrats and republicans are beginning to grow weary of the hateful and spiteful rhetoric that comes from both sides but clearly more from the right than the left. The left, not to be excused, seem to be too “above it all” to even consider that arguments from the right wing might actually have some merit.

In particular, the hatred of our President amongst republicans is very nasty. I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse than when we had rants from Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh as they referred to “Slick Willie” when they talked about President Clinton. But it has. It’s much worse. I think I’d need to take a shower after producing a right-wing political show these days. Some on the left, lump religion into a type of anti-intellectualism and the rights of the unborn into a “you’ve got to be kidding me” eye-rolling non-consideration these days.

In short, both sides are saying “It’s my way or the highway.”

And frankly, I’m sick of it.

A republican friend of mine, whom I greatly respect and who I love to spar with says that he looks forward to my respectful banter when we converse. In actuality, I suspect that we both lean a bit more to the center than to the extreme right or left. We’re pragmatists at our best. And over a beer we can get quite passionate about our beliefs and convictions, but at the end of the day, neither one of us leaves angry or bitter about the other. In fact, we usually embrace and perhaps even apologize if one has unintentionally or even, intentionally, hurt the other.

But today, it seems people not of a like mind can’t even drink together anymore.

And the church is not far behind Washington.

Michael O’Loughlin has this piece in America Magazine today and it smacks true to me:

Over the past couple of months—it is difficult to pinpoint a date—I have struggled immensely with my own identification as a Catholic. Sure, there are still the usual squabbles about Latin versus English, altar girls versus altar boys, whether bishops x or y are too political or out of touch. But something else is going on; this is deeper. There was that short flash of time several weeks ago when Catholics across the various spectrums seemed united: we did not want our religiously affiliated institutions compelled to break their consciences by providing coverage for contraception. But that wholeness went away nearly as quickly as it arrived, and in its wake we are left with a sort of bitter smugness from the Catholic right whose taste I haven’t been able to wash away.

Some on the Catholic right make it clear that any viewpoints that diverge from their own are not welcome in their church. Speaking or writing about ideas that may challenge church teaching, however gently, removes one from their faith. There is seemingly no mercy on the right. The Catholic left is ailing and will surely continue to diminish as my generation grows into adulthood; the environment is so toxic that progressives find other ways to live their faith, away from the institutional church. Some wish, rightly, that there be no divide between right and left, conservative and liberal, but this is not the church in which we find ourselves today. And often, those who clamor for an end to the divide too often toe the line that often animates Catholic ecumenism: adjust your beliefs, join our tribe, and all will be well.

To those whose lives fit snugly within the constructs the church accepts, this ultimatum might be easy enough to embrace. But in a society where those constructs echo back to a quaint time that never actually existed, where individuals have more choices, where decisions have become mind-bogglingly complex, where women and men can live full lives without the strictures of religious faith, it’s not that simple.

And it’s not that simple when we talk about the left either. While I’ll admit that I don’t like the new liturgical changes some have acted as if the Nazis themselves have come to take over the Sunday mass ritual. For some, anything that strikes them as pious or traditional is referred to as “outdated” or simply stupid. One friend told me that on Ash Wednesday he was asked to give out ashes and got quite a glare from a co-worker when he preferred the older line “Remember that you are dust” instead of the more genteel “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” I know I’ve been called too liberal by conservatives and too conservative by the liberals. An atheist student that I’ve become friends with calls me a “reasonable theist” and I think that’s a nicer comment than I receive from those within the boundaries of my own faith some days.

And I know I too, am at fault from time to time. And I appreciate when others call me on the carpet for when I’m too angry or shortsighted or unfair.

O’Loughlin’s article rings true to me that indeed we are looking at a church where it is harder and harder for us to get along. We’ve become more polarized and whenever we look for places to unite someone will come along and find a way to divide us. If you love the fact that Mary was obedient to God’s call some liberal will claim that she was a rebel, who lived as a single mother in challenging times and more importantly, chide you for not thinking that too. If you love what the Pope or Bishops have written about a Catholic stance on caring for the environment the more conservative person will come along and point to scripture and say humans have dominion over the earth and then call you a dolt for not “getting in line.” The Catholic position on the death penalty? We’ll be told about the sacredness of life and then get reminded of a loophole that barely exists in the rarest of circumstances. Nobody wants to budge an inch and finding wisdom in a way that compromises and honors one another has made way for rudeness and one-upmanship.

It all strikes me of “the need to be right” over and against any kind of moral integrity.

My image of God has become one of a sad grandparent, who looks at a family that they started and watched it grow but now, divisions have split the family into factions that no longer speak, not even at Christmas or Easter. It takes someone to die for people to notice the hardness of their hearts and even then they sit on opposite sides of the funeral parlor.

Perhaps this indeed is why we need lent? Maybe we all have something that prevents us from listening to even those we consider friends, nay brothers and sisters, never mind our enemies? Lent indeed calls us beyond the factions of polarization into a newness of life where we can indeed live with each other in disharmonious situations and despite the differences of opinions, we are still church together.

Both governing and theologizing means choosing one good over another good. It’s compromising at times to accept the goodness of another’s intention, despite what we think may be a wrong approach. It vows to not quit but rather commits to working through to the end no matter what happens and leads us to trust each other especially on matters of importance.

And moreover they deserve our respect. It reminds me of this moment of on the West Wing where Republican Ainsley Hayes (no relation, hah!) is being asked to join the White House council despite her party’s affiliation. Listen to what she is met with from members of her party:

Amen. May our divisions cease to divide further than they need to and may we be able to see the good in one another and not let our passions move us into dangerous factions too far to return back to a more polite time where we long to live together not in total harmony but to at least civil discourse.

And may our church preach that kind of discourse. Where we stop blaming and name calling both others outside of our church and each other as well.

And where we can once again, drink heartily while disagreeing and still shake each other’s hand at the end of the night.

Common Sense Should Be Applied in Supervision on Sex Abuser Claims

As a Catholic, I’m appalled by this defense tactic used by some in the Church to skirt their responsibility for supervising those who ended up abusing children.

From the NY Times:

However, courts in Missouri, Wisconsin and Utah have twisted the First Amendment into a shield for organizational liability for pedophile clergy. In an outrageous case, a Missouri appellate court summarily dismissed a negligence case brought against the Archdiocese of St. Louis by an individual who said he had been abused by a priest. His suit charged the archdiocese with negligent failure to supervise the priest, who had a past record of child sexual abuse. The court threw out the complaint, saying that Missouri law does not allow it because judging the supervision of the priest would require inquiry into religious doctrine, which it contends would violate the First Amendment.

This bizarre conclusion would grant churches a special exemption from neutral, generally applicable laws designed to protect children. The United States Supreme Court now has an opportunity to reverse this erroneous interpretation of the Constitution. The justices should grant the plaintiff’s petition for review, which they are scheduled to consider on Friday.

And consider it they should. Supervision does not have anything to do with religious practice in these instances. If it did, no non-Catholics could work for the church by definition.

It’s also a ridiculous claim. We can’t investigate into whether this person who works for us abused a child because the state can’t determine whether someone actually did that. Um, pardon me, but isn’t this obvious? Either the person did this or didn’t do this and unless they say that God told them to do it—which would be a horrifying thing to say—then their religious perspective is both flawed and irrelevant.

Should the state not investigate terrorists who make religious claims for their actions? Of course not. It’s ridiculous. I’d go further and say if they were inspired by a religious entity of any kind in moving forward with their plan, then that entity may also be complicit in the conspiracy.

There’s a few things that are universal truths that just about every religion can indeed get behind. This is one of them. Children should not be abused and if they are the state has the right to tell the church that they are liable for improperly supervising them.

Gibson: Can Any of Us Avoid Cooperating with Evil?

David Gibson has an interesting take on the HHS debate which is tough to argue with. It’s similar to what I’ve been struggling with when I’ve said things like “Aren’t we already cooperating with evil just by dealing with the healthcare companies in general?”

It seems, in general, it would be hard not to.

A snip from Gibson’s article:

Some critics of the administration’s “accommodation” for faith-based employers argue that the distance between a Catholic (or other religious) employer is deceptive on two counts.

One, they say that the organization’s health insurance company will simply pass on the cost of the contraceptive coverage to the religious institution in the form of higher premiums, so the institution will in effect be paying for contraceptive coverage. But studies show that providing coverage for birth control actually saves insurers money (pregnancies and abortions cost more than contraceptives) and it is at least revenue neutral. So there are no costs to pass on.

The second objection is that the faith-based institution will be sending its money to an insurance company that provides objectionable coverage, and so the religious group’s dollars will still be subsidizing a sinful practice.

One response is that health care premiums do not “belong” to the institution but are actually part of an employee’s compensation, like their paycheck. Just as an employer deducts withholding for taxes, it is sending the employee’s money to a health insurance company for coverage. An employer has no control or culpability if an employee buys condoms with either her paycheck or her insurance plan.

In addition, insurance works by pooling risk and premium dollars, and anyone who buys a policy from an insurance company is indirectly paying for the birth control — or chemotherapy or Viagra or heart bypass surgery — of other clients of that company, just as those clients indirectly pay for treatments you will need.

As Boudway put it: “It is very difficult, not to say impossible, to avoid remote material cooperation with evil in a complex modern economy.

So in essence, we’re screwed any way you look at it.

A second point, different from Gibson’s brought up by my friend Alex in conversation recently:

Should there be a new standard that you dont have to put your tax dollars into government spending that doesnt fit your belief system? (For example, the Iraq War) Should Quakers have to pay for military expenditures?

I’d go a step further. Should Catholics in states that have the death penalty be able to remove themselves from paying taxes? States that have poor environmental practices–do they deserve my tax money?

Once we have universal health care does the same principle apply?

The larger question here, of course, is a federal vs a state issue. Does the Federal Government have the right to tell us what we have to buy? We know that the state government has the right to tell you that you must buy car insurance for instance (or of course, face the consequence when you get in a three car pile up). The question now, which will go to the Supreme Court eventually is does the federal government have the same right. I believe their answer will be to say no.

Regardless, is this what the Bishops and the church at large is also concerned with? That’s doubtful. They more don’t want their employees to have to purchase something that goes against their moral principles.

But leads to bigger questions. Should I have to pay for war, the death penalty, policies that we know keep people in poverty? The list could be endless. What about companies that make it difficult for us to buy their products because of their practices (Now even, girl scout cookies are bad to buy because they endanger gorillas!).

Just as we have socially aware investing, we may have to go down the road of socially aware health care or moreover, socially aware politics. I’ve tried to do this at the supermarket, buy local, avoid some of the morally questionable food companies, buy organic, etc. It’s difficult and I don’t always succeed in avoiding cooperating with evil but I at best have minimized it to some point.

The question here is how do we best minimize our cooperation in this area?

Perhaps it’s time for a health care company to get some phone calls and see if someone somewhere wants all the business that Catholic entities want to offer them? Then it will be up to them to lobby the administration to let them do exactly that instead of them being forced to offer health care that includes contraception, etc.

This is not going to end well for anyone I fear and frankly, I’m tired of hearing and talking about it.

Bishops Say: “Right Direction” but More Needed

Just off the presses:

The USCCB adds their two cents:

“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”

So it sounds like a general approval but that more discussion will be needed in the coming weeks.

A question to ask to the general public because I think I’m pretty smart but perhaps I’m missing something about this:

So if a catholic employee has say Blue Cross/Blue Shield for their insurance, doesn’t BC/BS also have policies for other companies where employees at that company could already get birth control and abortion paid for by IH? So how is giving them money for a separate policy for us that eliminates that option not the same kind of cooperation that people are considering now?

Just saying.

UPDATE: An Accommodation Expected from the Obama Administration

Looks like the long national nightmare will soon be over. President Obama’s Administration is ready to offer an accommodation on the birth control law that would require Catholic employees and hospitals to provide birth control to their employees and patients.

Just in from the Washington Post:

Women will be guaranteed coverage for contraceptive services, but would have to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies if their employers object to birth control on religious grounds.

Republicans are vowing to reverse President Barack Obama’s new policy on birth control, blasting the rule that religious schools and hospitals must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees as an attack on religious freedom. (Feb. 8)

Similar compromises are in place in Hawaii and several other states, but the White House had not included one when it proposed the health-care law requiring contraceptive coverage for all women. After a firestorm of opposition from Catholic church officials and other groups, the Obama administration said it would seek to modify its position.

President Obama is scheduled to announce the change Friday during an appearance before reporters in the White House at 12:15 p.m. He is trying to head off a growing political problem, after his decision Jan. 20 to grant only a narrower exemption to the health-care rule.

Also from the NY Times:

Administration officials called the expected announcement an “accommodation” that they said sought to demonstrate respect for religious beliefs. It will be similar to the path taken in several other states — particularly Hawaii — that have similar rules.

But administration officials also acknowledged that it would likely not mollify the Catholic bishops who have waged war against the rule or, for that matter, Congressional Republicans and candidates on the presidential campaign trail who have joined the fight. At most, the compromise could potentially help President Obama shore up support among wavering Democrats, who have also expressed doubt about the rule, along with more liberal religious organizations and charities, who oppose the rule but not as vehemently as the Catholic leadership.

Let’s see if this is acceptable to the Bishops. I would say that other Presidents might not have even considered a compromise, so I think this is a step in the right direction.

Stay Tuned.